Appeal worthwhile in Kamehameha admissions case


POSTED: Monday, January 05, 2009

A new lawsuit challenging Kamehameha Schools' Hawaiians-only admission policy has been put on indefinite hold over the issue of whether the young plaintiffs' names should be publicly disclosed. The circumstances in the case are novel and may require a lengthy appeal on this decisive yet side issue, but no alternatives exist.

Federal Magistrate Barry Kurren ruled in October that the names of four non-Hawaiian students and their parents be made public for the lawsuit to continue, and he reiterated his ruling last week. They now are identified as Lisa, Karl, Jacob and Janet Doe.

The standoff follows an out-of-court settlement in 2007, as the U.S. Supreme was about to decide whether to consider an appeal by a prospective non-Hawaiian student, who went unnamed. The school maintains in the current lawsuit that it needs to check on the young plaintiffs' claims associated with their applications for admission.

Federal rules in civil lawsuits state that “;every action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.”; However, courts have granted exceptions in cases where privacy needs outweigh the “;presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.”;

Among the factors to be considered, according to court rulings, are not only whether the children's interests are at stake—they certainly are in this case—but whether the young plaintiffs “;would risk suffering injury if identified.”;

Attorneys for the children maintain that threats made to the anonymous children through media outlets attest to that risk. The children are likely to back out of the suit if their names must be made public, according to the Doe attorneys. Kurren rejected the explanation, ruling that “;use of fictitious names runs afoul of the public's common-law right of access to judicial proceedings.”;

A ruling on whether Kamehameha's admission policy violates federal law must await a final decision of the issue of anonymity.